Getting a dog last year changed Owen Fleming’s life.
When he purchased his dog, Toby, as a puppy, he noticed something wasn’t quite right about him, and realized he must have come from an unreputable breeder.
Concerned, he started to do some research: if there were unreputable breeders in the area, what else was going on?
“So I started finding out about puppy mills around here, as well as dog fighting rings and high-kill shelters further south,” he said. “And I realized there’s so much that still needs to be done.”
Wanting to help, he figured the first step would be to help an existing organization. That’s when he decided to open Terrible Toby’s, an online dog store that helps raise funds for animals in need.
“I started Terrible Toby’s because I didn’t know where else to start, and I thought a dog store would be a really cool way to respond and help change the world by spoiling your dog at home, as well as raising money.”
Although the store’s name is Terrible Toby’s, he insists that Toby is not, in fact, terrible.
“That’s more of an ironic thing. He can definitely get up to no good though,” he said. “Aside from that, he’s a cuddle monster.”
Having started the business during the pandemic, Fleming said he didn’t expect business to last. “I expected us to go under pretty quickly,” he said.
But the store was a success almost immediately, and he ended up getting a market stall at St. Jacobs Farmers Market as well. In just a few months, he managed to raise around $1,8,00 for the International Humane Society.
After that, he decided to partner with the New Collar Collective (NCC), a dog rescue organization in Toronto, that helps animals all over the world.
“I partnered with them because they were really new, so they started around the same time I did - I thought it would be great to grow with somebody else,” he said.
While Terrible Toby’s is a for-profit company, Fleming refers to it as a social justice company because they donate around 50 per cent of the profits to the NCC.
Eventually, he hopes to start his own frontline rescue, where he can be “out in the field working with law enforcement to shut down puppy mills or dog fighting rings and help get these dogs back to rescues like New Collar.”
Recently, the Animal Food Bank (which currently operates in Alberta, Manitoba, and BC) reached out to him to help launch an animal food bank that operates across Ontario.
There is already a KW Pet Food Bank, which he’s hoping to coordinate with, though nothing has been set in stone yet.
Despite the store's success, because so much of the money is donated, Fleming is losing money on the endeavour. Yet, he isn’t even remotely deterred.
Just knowing that there is a need for these services - that dogs are being “hurt, mistreated, and put down, when they can live happy lives here,” has been fuelling his every move.
Before opening his store, Fleming worked as an event DJ. When work became limited after the pandemic hit, he was only working 20 hours a week at a mobile app company, so he took advantage of the time he had to throw himself into this new endeavour.
While he won’t give up his work as a DJ completely, raising money and rescuing dogs is what he plans to do for the rest of his life. “I don’t want to go back to just living my own life, knowing that other dogs are hurting so much,” he said.
If you’re interested in helping out, Fleming says the best way to help is to volunteer or go directly to NCC, or whichever organization you choose, and donate through them.
“However, if you’re looking to get stuff for your dog, that’s where I come in. [Terrible Toby’s] is a place where you can spoil your own dog and know that you’re also doing good,” he said.